My youngest daughter, while walking out the door today said she was quitting her internship at the local NAMI art therapy position. I asked why? I thought it was a good fit? She went on to tell me how her instructor for the internship had told her that her losing her sister was meant to be and that she would be stronger for it. I was shocked that someone working with teens in the school system would say that to her. How could she not realize she just told my daughter that her sister’s death was the reason that she will do well in this world? I told her, unfortunately, people don’t know what to say, or how to just sit next to someone and listen. They feel the need to help, provide advice, even if none of it is helpful or is useful.
22 months ago, when my daughter passed, someone wrote to me in a card, “God only gives you what you can handle.” I actually had to look up the verse, 1 Cor. 10, because there is no way God would give me the death of my child because I could handle it?? Actually, in 2 Corinthians 1, Paul explains that he and his companions were “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired life itself.” I am guessing that it didn’t sound as pretty in condolence cards. Instead, 2 Cor. 12:9 “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee for my power is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Again, maybe these words would be more helpful, but what people want to do, is to make themselves less uncomfortable when faced with the unexplainable, like the death of a daughter or sister.
Just recently, as if we haven’t had enough loss, my oldest daughter’s boyfriend unexpectedly left the relationship and then soon after also passed. The double loss for my daughter is unfair. Even I caught myself at first, trying to offer lame words of condolence to her, luckily I stopped myself. The loss is not rational. Taking my own advice, I just listened when she wanted to talk, I put my hand on hers when her eyes fill with tears at the restaurant. I cannot take away her pain, or make myself feel better with empty words. I can sit with her in her grief, acknowledge how she feels once again her life path altered. I didn’t try and tell her maybe it wasn’t meant to be, or she will be stronger for this, I just sat next to her.
My youngest daughter, who has some emotional regulation issues, burst into tears when she saw her sister walk in the door and move back home yesterday. She couldn’t express it, but she felt the sadness of her sisters’ new loss and her reaction was an honest expression of her love for her. She later asked me, why has this happened, again? (I even had a couple co-workers ask me the same question). The old me, before the unexpected loss of my daughter, might have tried to justify a loss in a way that could make me feel like it wouldn’t happen to me. I explained to my youngest this morning, that there is no good answer. We live in a messy world. I told her about my 18-year-old patient last week with facial bone cancer. He has about 5 years to live with that prognosis. I recognized the parents drained and exhausted facial expressions, like one I have held, as he was being prepped for surgery. The boy expressed content at whatever he had left, compelled to live his last few years to the fullest, the look on his parent’s faces seemed to say they felt differently. It is unfair and there is no answer. We can just love and support each other, sitting next to each other in the valley.
In the late hours of 2015 Mikenna got mono. It came as a surprise to us because in 8th grade her best friend and her shared everything and they both tested positive for mono. This was the first time I learned that although the virus lays dormant, some people have it reactivated. Those people are usually physically and/or emotionally stressed. Mikenna had just moved back home from college, was dealing with an eating disorder and we now know most likely the onset of bipolar depression. She was unable to hardly move out of her bed for weeks. Fast-forward a year later from then and I would find myself dealing with a preview of what it might feel like to live in grief, I just didn’t know it yet.
A few months after Mikenna, I also developed mono. It seemed ridiculous at 44, but my Epstein-Barr virus was off the charts and I was suffering from flu-like symptoms that had lasted for weeks. It wasn’t a feeling of being tired, it was severe body fatigue that did not ease with sleep. I could barely work. After two months I went back to the doctor. They couldn’t figure out why I was still feeling like I had acute mono. Months went by and I was tested for everything including infectious diseases. Finally, I was given a steroid, and the flue-like body aches subsided. As months went on, I would wake up with pain in my wrists, hands, feet, and ankles. Some days my wrists would be swollen, other days, my thumb would feel like it wanted to come off. That summer I planned a rafting trip for all of my co-workers. The weekend of the trip, I woke up completely unable to use my hands, I couldn’t hold a toothbrush. During this first year, I felt crazy. I work as a nurse, I have over 8 years of advanced education, and I felt insane. Nothing on the internet made sense. My family physician was baffled and was one of the most intelligent physicians I had ever known. She referred me to rheumatology as a last-ditch effort, hoping they could figure it out.
One of the first things the Rheumatologist said to me after labs and my examination was, “you are not crazy. you have an autoimmune disease.” She explained to me it wasn’t uncommon for mono to accelerate the autoimmune process. She explained I already had the syndrome where my hands, feet, and face would not tolerate extreme cold and would turn blue or purple, was in my chart from years earlier. Something I hadn’t thought much about, I’m a colorful person. I’m the ice queen and my husband is a furnace. It never bothered me much. It wasn’t that uncommon. I didn’t really pay attention until then, that these were early markers of an autoimmune process. A process already set in motion by my own genetics, accelerated by extreme stress and mono or more precisely the Epstein-Barr virus. She diagnosed me with Sicca syndrome (dry eyes, nose, and throat) and the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis, RA. I at least had something to research.
As I went down the rabbit hole of autoimmune diseases, causes, treatment, and symptoms, I realized it was an invisible disease process. Similar to my youngest daughter’s Asperger-like learning disabilities, they are complicated, invisible, and even in the modern world of science, some people believe they are unreal. I was thankful enough to join a few online support groups. I found a world where other people were being treated for RA, and Sjogren’s (Sicca). We were from all over the world, but we shared the swollen joints, dry eyes, and lack of understanding from the world around us.
I learned to stop talking about it too much around other people. How holding scissors for more than a few minuted might make my hands go stiff. How I cannot sit criss-cross without my ankles and knees swelling and then being unable to walk, I cannot paint without being unable to use my hands for days later, I cannot wear heeled shoes ever again. I wear orthopedic unattractive shoes at work. I take a mild cancer medication weekly, it keeps my symptoms from getting worse and I am thankful. The medication causes IBS symptoms and I have to be careful about the day I choose to take it. I take another medication for the all-over body fatigue, it also causes an upset stomach, so I have to take it at night and if I stop taking it, the flu-like symptoms return. This medication causes severe sun sensitivity so I have to wear long shirts and sunscreen always. If I am in the sun and become overheated, I get sun-sick and I’m down for days. The cold intolerance of Reynaurds, has me in multiple layers below 60 degrees and stiff, but I am lucky, I do not have Parkinson’s, cancer, or MS. I am lucky because of my rheumatologist, recognized right away what I was dealing with. There are people that wait years, some wheel-chair bound before they are acknowledged. Some people do not have medical insurance to cover appointments and medication. It is an invisible disease process, but I am fortunate I can work, I can play, maybe a little less, but more than so many and I am very thankful.
Outside my on-line group, I know a few people in my life with autoimmune diseases. All different kinds. One of my best-friends carries on with one that is more severe and with a worse prognosis. Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis in which there is long-term inflammation of the joints and spine, pelvis and hips, shoulders and it becomes worse over time). I don’t dare tell her when I am having a bad day with my joints, hands or feet. I know every day she can walk is a good day. I noticed most people with autoimmune disease don’t talk about how they feel. They don’t want to appear whiny. They quietly soldier on, only talking to others with the same disease not wanting to seem weak or incapable. This was a glimpse as to what was to come next.
Then my daughter passed. I entered the world of mothers who had lost a child. A group no one asks to join. Not only that but my daughter ended her life, under the influence one night, suffering from anxiety and depression, in a rocky relationship. It didn’t matter she was insanely gorgeous, a straight-A student with multiple scholarships, from a pretty normal loving family. I couldn’t even say the word suicide at the time. It left a world of unanswered questions. I felt people back away from me, uncomfortable. Another alien world. People did not know what to say, or how to be a comfort. In this world, talking about your grief, after the initial loss, makes people uncomfortable. In this world, it is unacceptable to talk about your child that passed on a regular basis. (Even though they will always be a part of your life). On-line, parents seek each other out, like with autoimmune diseases, to have a safe place to express their sadness and questions, and experiences. People around us, secretly thankful it didn’t happen to them. They rationalized why it happened, parents didn’t see the signs, or major depression, drugs or alcohol, lack of faith, whatever. The truth is there is no one correct answer. It is a combination of factors. They theorize without realizing that they are doing it, why it happened and how it won’t happen to them, I know because I used to do it myself.
If I raise my children right, if I love them, if I teach them x.y.z nothing bad will happen to them right? We live in a broken world. That doesn’t mean we give up, it means bad things happen to good people. It means a person, who eats healthily and gets exercise might still get an autoimmune disease or cancer. We still try and eat healthy, hedge our bets. It means at 4am a young heartbroken girl, might impulsively choose to close her eyes. I will still keep trying to prevent this from happening to others. It’s a messy, messy, world.
I have learned so much through these processes. How we categorize people quicky. Right, wrong, healthy, crazy. How we avoid what makes us uncomfortable. How we choose to not talk about physical or emotional pain for fear of judgment. If there was anything good to come out of such a horrible tragedy, it would be this new knowledge. My eyes are now opened to how we shun those that make us uncomfortable, and how that makes the people we are moving away from, even more, isolated and vulnerable.
I was driving home from visiting my oldest daughter for her birthday. It’s a long tedious drive I had done dozens of times. After losing her sister, only 20 months younger than her, and her best friend, I count every birthday as a blessing. She finally looked like my beautiful girl again, except now she was a 23-year-old woman. Grief has given her a maturity in her eyes too young for her sweet face, but on this day, the circles under her eyes seemed faded and I could now see hope and possibilities shining from within her.
The house she lives in still holds recent memories or her sister. Bittersweet to look at, but I am still so thankful to look at them. The funny thing with grief, there is no right way to view loss. I say it again, THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG WAY TO VIEW LOSS! Some people need to put every picture away to cope through their day, some people need every item and picture their loved one held in their presence. I live somewhere in the middle, I need to keep certain things, and all the pictures, but I have learned that I need to find uses for some things, I need to give it a purpose. That is just me, I made boot planters, I had blankets made from clothing, I had bears made, I made Christmas ornaments from sympathy cards. It has given me a feeling of purpose to give things a purpose.
At some point in therapy, even before my daughter passed, I learned most of us carry around these past hurts and feelings we let drive our actions. We have an emotional feeling about a situation and we impulsively act on it without acknowledging the feeling, processing how it makes us feel and letting it move past us. My family of the ADHD variety has always struggled with impulsivity, some of that changes with maturity luckily.
Through losing M, I have had to do this a lot. Process. As I was driving home I made the analogy it is like driving into the storm. Why would anyone want to do that? Driving into a dark ominous mass that is right in front of us gives us the opportunity to come out the other side. To try and run from it, ignore it, or pretend it isn’t there does nothing for us. It eventually catches us off guard and unprepared.
The kind of grief I have been dealing with is called complicated grief. It’s the only name they can give someone that has suffered through an unexpected trauma. All grief is different, complicated grief means I didn’t get a reason for my loss like cancer or a car accident. The passing of my daughter is complicated, to say the least, so what I am doing to keep myself together? Just about everything.
I was driving home thinking about an unpleasant conversation I was going to have about her passing. It wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have, but I knew that if I didn’t have it I couldn’t put this storm, this dark cloud behind me. I have been focusing on the positive, how to help others in her name and this felt icky. Just like cleaning out her closet, this needed to be done. I needed to feel how it made me feel, acknowledge it, have the conversation and move forward. I made the call as I pulled over at the rest area.
Almost home I see the evening sunset after the rain. The grey clouds moving in the direction I had just come from. The conversation wasn’t wonderful but I had made it. I could take a deep breath without thinking about what might be said or what should be said.
Thinking about my recent visit to my daughter, I remember and appreciate the little white butterfly that said hello when I first arrived. It may or may not have been a little hello from heaven, but I appreciated it all the same. I have realized we get the signs and messages when we need them, maybe not always when we want them.
My friend at work recently got married. She had a beautiful wedding in a beautiful private place in either Alaska or Canada. The wedding she planned as a young girl with her best friend.
Every young girl these days most likely has a wedding Pinterest site. When I was young I cut up pictures of gowns and saved them. My friend from work had done the same I am sure. She had everything she ever wished for, the most beautiful place, the most beautiful dress, the handsome groom, but she didn’t have her maid of honor, her best friend, who had passed a few years earlier. On that day, as she stood in the most beautiful place, in her expensive dress, looking into her handsome groom’s eyes, a monarch butterfly circled her and then landed on her white dress. At that moment she was breathless. Heaven had sent her a little gift. Her best friend and maid of honor had sent her love. Here is the picture of that moment as she stood in the sunshine, still shaken by the storm but surrounded now in light and love.
The day before we left on our mission trip as a family, I wondered what on earth possessed me to consider taking four of us on a mission trip at the same time. We were working, playing sports, and wrapping up the school year, along with getting ready for our exchange student, starting our nonprofit and managing life. Frantically running around packing and arguing with each other, tying up loose ends, we left at 3:30 in the morning on our ten day trip over the border.
We arrived and at first, I felt the tiredness and homelife responsibilities tugging at our mission. I was worried I had made a mistake, but I had gone out on a leap of faith that this was something that would be healing for our family. Serving others would give us a break from the constant torment balancing our grief with the daily grind.
When I had the idea over 6months earlier, I had asked for a sign I should take my family to Mexico to help those less fortunate than ourselves and was answered minutes later by a family donating a large portion of our financial portion so we all could go. I knew that gift couldn’t be wrong, I just needed to believe and keep pushing on.
After the first couple of days, I noticed a change in my husband. He was smiling. He was also sweating as he hand-nailed and framed along with 14 other people on his work site, but he seemed genuinely happy working and focusing on his project. He had learned about the father on his site who was providing for his children by working in a restaurant in the kitchen. He took time off work to make sure he could be there for the building of his house. My husband worked in a kitchen when we were first married also as he finished college with small babies and a wife at home. He had also taken this week off work to build this man’s home.
My youngest daughter doubted her purpose of being there. She was teaching kids in a language she didn’t know. She struggles at home with being an introvert and communicating with others sometimes in her own language. By the end of the trip though, she was engaged, crafting and playing with the kids near the work sites. As I walked by the local store near our camp I spied her smiling and sharing a coconut with another mission friend and my heart melted a little. It was not a mistake for her to come.
My middle child has been struggling (like all of us). Life can be hard even for the happiest of kids. I catch her on her phone hiding away from our tent. She seemed homesick and I became worried. It’s not something she shows others, its what I can see. I cry and pray for her heartaches. I need her to connect.
The next day is a long work day. I see my same daughter as I walk from site to site passing out band-aids and Advil for mild injuries. She’s working hard and everyone says she’s a trooper. Later I notice shes spending more and more time with the two young girls on her site and the next day she takes a soccer ball and her water backpack for the girls. She also askes for me to look at one of their rashes and listen to their chest cold.
The following day our pastor tells me how she just shines in this place. I wonder how I can help her keep it if I can, and I am very thankful for it, that shine I asked her about how she is doing and she tells me how she has made a very strong connection with the family, especially the two girls. The little girl sits in her lap and tells her how she is very sad, how she misses her sister. She tells her in Spanish that her sister is in heaven and she misses her very much. My daughter tells her in her high school Spanish, that her sister is also in heaven and that she also misses her very much. When I hear this story and I see my daughter I know in my heart it is no coincidence. How many families applied to have their homes made this year by the mission group, and out of those that applied then this family was chosen? They could have been on 9 other sites, my daughter might have decided to work with the vision clinic or the children, but the family and my daughter were put together. My daughter talks more to the young girl and learns that not only did they also lose their sister, but they lost her the same month and the same year. God uses broken pieces.
my daughter with her sweet gi
I came home and my oldest daughter who was unable to go with us, tells me about a baby deer that a mother deer has given birth to a couple days earlier. (if you’ve read from blogs past since she lost her sister, deer follow her a lot, even look in her therapy windows.) She tells me the mother deer hangs out somewhere nearby waiting for the dear to stand up on her wobbly legs. My daughter passes by the deer day after day and calls the local animal group to ask anything can be done. My daughter is concerned the baby deer is ill. The mother deer still hangs nearby. Today I talked to my daughter and she tells me the baby deer is gone, but the mother deer still hangs in the same spot, with her other slightly older deer babies, waiting and watching where she left her infant. To be honest, I cried and I pray the vet has the deer.
I got off the phone with my oldest and notice my youngest is keeping herself busy by painting a bible cover she got at GoodWill. She hasn’t been in the same room with me when I was having the conversation. She finishes her painting as I walk in the room and I see she is adding a deer to her painting, along with the verse from Psalms 121:1-2 I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord the maker of heaven and earth.
Before I left Mexico I had a sign language conversation of sorts with the mother. I asked her how many children she had. She told me three as she pointed at the two in front of me and then pointed to heaven for her third. She asked me the same question and I said four as I pointed to mine and pointed to heaven. I watched her grab a jacket and place it on her youngest, maybe concerned she might catch a cold as the weather had turned. I don’t need to know Spanish to understand.
I look back at that moment and I know she could also relate to the mother deer if I could tell her the story. As parents that have lost their child, we cannot lay down, we cannot give up though our heart stays in the same spot where we left our baby. A piece of it will always stay there, with our child. We continue on while we simultaneously stay close and hold tight to what we hold dear. (Pun intended.) I am fascinated that God sent me hundreds of miles from home to meet another grief mama. I wonder if I’ve somehow lessened her pain a tiny bit or at least let her know she doesn’t walk alone. (Now if I could only speak in deer, I would tell that deer mama the same thing).
The conversations around my house for weeks were centered around Prom. You can blame Disney, social media, or our culture, but being a pretty princess is somewhere in our DNA or at least part of our little girl daydreams. The talk was on dresses and shoes, clutches and nails, dinner and transportation, make-up and hair. What we should have discussed with my introverted daughter, was skills for feeling overwhelmed when 250 teenagers are bumping and grinding in a dance circle. All and all she did well, she spent more time in the bathroom than the average teenager, but she went, she took pictures, she talked to the people she felt the most comfortable with and next year when she goes again, she’ll know what to expect. She will have ideas on how to navigate the dance circles and awkward conversations. Honestly, the most difficult things in life are the unknowns.
The day after prom I found a post in my feed about grounding. It was called, “Tips to Help with an Anxiety Attack. Look around you and find Five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. The post continues to say this is grounding. It can help when you feel like you have lost all control of your surroundings” -The Anxiety Therapist. The first thing I thought was the person that wrote this has never had an anxiety attack. When you are feeling anxious, your body gears up for a fight or flight response, your heart beats faster, you can be agitated or restless, and mostly you have impaired concentration where your mind goes blank. Not to mention in an actual attack, your vision can become narrowed and your hearing can feel overstimulated. This made me chuckle to myself. I just envisioned myself at nursing school breathing heavy with my head down asking, “I’m supposed to touch something, or smell something? Five of what and four of what? I’ve only had a couple of these anxiety attacks, one in nursing school many years ago, and the other when my daughter passed unexpectedly, I do, however, see the merit of teaching yourself or a friend the concept of grounding, taking your shoes off or holding an inanimate object. It is supposed to help with bringing you back to the present moment. I think that might be a teachable concept that someone can remember when they are feeling anxious if you keep it simple.
Later I was dusting and noticing how the dust was everywhere. It was on every crevice, top, bottom, sides on all the knick-knacks on my shelving unit. Two analogies came to mind. First, dust is like a loss. It is everywhere, there is no hiding it. It touches everything, every part of your life is touched by loss. Second is that loss and grief scatters a person like dust in the wind. I have never felt more fragmented than the months following the loss of my daughter. My thoughts were scattered, my emotions were scattered, and the concept of time was also scattered. I am just now slowly piecing myself back together. The concept of grounding comes back to me and I think about different forms of grounding.
Months ago I noticed some people, that were years out from their loss, seemed to be doing a tiny bit better than others. There were some that were still having a hard time functioning on a day to day basis and others that struggled but seemed to be functioning. I met with a few of them trying to understand what it was I was going through, reaching for someone who understood the terrible pain. I started to notice a theme. My one friend and husband organize a charity for children with the same disease as their son, Another set of parent went on to battle in courts to change a law that would save other children, and another couple works around the clock running a non-profit for wilderness therapy. A father, I haven’t met in person, collects books annually because his child loved to read. These people were also still married to their spouses after suffering such a loss, I believe the father was a single Dad before the loss, but he was writing and functioning a few years outside of the loss of his child. One study indicated that divorce rates among bereaved parents are as much as eight times the norm (Lehman, Wortman, & Williams, 1987). What did these parents have in common? A sense of purpose, a focal point, a different form of grounding to the here and now. Their pieces that had been broken and scattered to the wind brought together for a sense of purpose they had found.
Sitting in my Sunday morning coffee bible study group, somehow the subject of grounding came up, (probably I brought it up). One man discusses the importance of using grounding wire, it keeps you from blowing your circuit and from the electrical current being scattered everywhere. We talk about how having faith is like being grounded. Faith helps keep a person from being scattered, it brings light to the darkness.
Our group leader then reads Psalm 119 verse 105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” Without anyone near the light switch that we could see, the rest of the conference room lights, at that same moment, turn on. Luckily, this time, it was in a room full of people, and one of my friends that was with me the last time I had a similar experience, was there. God has such a funny way of getting my attention, I felt like I got a “right on” and I can’t help but think my daughter’s sense of humor could also be at play here.
I sometimes struggle with the idea of being broken. First of all, we are all broken in different ways. I used to say, “no one gets out of this world alive.” What I meant by that was that everyone has their “stuff.” Years ago, I used to think I was the only one that had issues to deal with. I then became a charge nurse at work, and boy I figured out I was wrong.
If you are old enough to remember Lucy and her .5 cents for psychiatric advice, you would kind of know what I am talking about. At my desk, I would sit at a couple times a week, it even had a little window you could slide shut at one point, I would give my .5 cents worth of advice and counsel for whatever it was worth. A charge nurse not only makes sure the floor they are working on runs well, but they look after the basic welfare of their co-workers while they work. You would be given confidential information that wasn’t really for management to deal with, and then you would have to discern what was best for the department and your co-worker without breaking their confidentiality.
I would have co-workers with sick children or spouses, injuries to work around, some personality conflicts and other issues that would come up during the day. As I sat back one day I realized everyone was dealing with something. One person has a husband working out of state, one has adult children living with her that she helps support, another takes care of her aging parents on her days off, one was awaiting a total joint surgery, someone else also has a learning disabled child to care for at home. We all come to work with our stuff and we set it aside to get the job done, but on occasion, they need help making that happen. That’s when I knew that everyone was dealing with something. Some of us a little more or less or different than the other person.
Some of us have more “stuff” than others, and sometimes our “stuff” is unlike anyone’s around us. I know in my case, I found it unbearable to share how I was feeling verbally with others around me and I began writing. I have no idea why I can write so openly about my deepest feelings more than I can talk about them. My husband had a great statement this morning, “no matter where this all leads you, it’s doing something, it’s not doing nothing.”
I thought about being broken. I have been broken as if I were smashed, stepped on and swept up and discarded. That is how broken I have felt with my loss. I am so broken that I feel like I walk around as a whole person, that has been glued back together and repainted, only to have the surface scratched daily to reveal my brokenness. The only thing that helps is the knowledge that I still have a purpose, that I will see my daughter again, and that I do not walk this road alone.
Today is 14 months since the loss of my daughter. It honestly is like a blink of an eye. When I need a few minute mental reprieves, I think about how she could be studying abroad or on a mission trip. I guess she is, there’s just no way to text or track her on her GPS like find my iPhone. I know that I will carry her with me every day and in all things I do. I know that most people that have lost someone close to them, like a child or a spouse, feel the same way.
Yesterday I listened to my pastor take about the miracle of feeding the 5,000 with 5 loves of bread and 2 pickled herrings. To feed the masses he broke the bread. It was only broken bread that was blessed and used to feed 5,000 men and their wives and children. We discussed in our group, how in history and in the bible, how broken people were always the people that went on to do extraordinary things. I don’t blame God for my brokenness, I know we live in a broken world. I do believe that he takes broken things, blesses them, and uses them for so much more than we can imagine.
Below is a song shared in our group about the story of feeding the masses and being broken.
Going through my daughter’s things I ran into the issues of her boots. They were her prized possessions. She loved her Doc Martins and her Timberlines. The problem was no one in our family wore that size and I didn’t want to just give them away. I decided to make planters out of them for her closest family and friends. I started with the boots with the broken sole.
To make these planters I took a pair of boots that were no longer going to be worn. These had a large tear in the bottom. I took out the inside lining and then drilled a few drainage holes in the bottom. I spayed the outside of the shoe with waterproofing spray and filled with a seasonal plant. You can keep inside the plastic container or fill the boot with potting soil. I attached a laminated memorial tag to one and cardstock message to another. You can cover the cardstock in clear tape to waterproof it also.